Alan Kattelle Collection

Written by: Mark Abb

I came to Northeast Historic Film (NHF) in search of easier work, building boats, houses and cabinetry had been wearing on me. During those 'careers' an Olympus OM 1 was close at hand to record the process and those in harness with me as the gift of a camera became an early companion.

I've been doing this from my mid teens. That camera was the first pen of my journal, often generating some pocket lining with name credit through pursuit of an interest. Study of film has remained ongoing and I was looking for on the job training in the digital world following some university courses and thought NHF might be a source.

I was intrigued when David Weiss, Executive Director, mentioned photographing movie equipment for a web site during the interview. I got on board and not long after was assigned to record Alan Kattelle's collection of movie cameras. An 800+ piece assortment of 8, Super 8 and 16 mm cameras and accessories gathered over 25 years, a display that filled a wall of his home, now donated to NHF. I erected a studio, in name only, beneath the lobby of the Alamo Theatre beside construction tailings, concession stand supplies, shelves crowded with film equipment and armed with a Canon G9 opened Box 1.

8mm image Super8mm image 16mm image

Presently I am into box 45 with 1700+ images filed on computer. All cameras are wrapped in numbered bubble wrap, and packed in acid free cardboard filing boxes. An unknown number remain to open and I'd rather not know the total. It has been a learning process having worked with ambient light, I'm not a studio photographer, but enjoy the challenge of capturing a good image including some of the camera's character, construction or unique detail.

Each camera contains a small, numbered tag tied with cord by Alan's hand frequently with an additional note enclosed typed on slips of yellow paper or hand written describing the rare, experimental, last of kind or fact of interest. Notes tell of keen interest and knowledge of subject. I envision Alan cheering as he acquired certain models as there are subtle differences in cameras that appear to be twins, indicating his interest in the technology. Some include a display base he made from Plexiglas or a jar lid telling of his engineer / sculptor background.

Every box is both time capsule and treasure chest. All contents different in type and number, some hold 6; others over a dozen, from compact to cumbersome, across the years; basic to complex with single to multiple lenses. Early examples range from lack of detail to richly embossed and ornate, instructions for available light settings fixed on the body, focus, f-stop, ASA - DIN manually adjusted, the soul of the camera now often left to automation. Their all metal body gives a built to last feel. Few to date are of plastic construction.



A routine evolved in this process: display camera reference number, clean off the dust, open and check for film, often still on the reel or in cartridge in place, note the smell stored since the last opening, trace their mechanical workings as each has unique features, release shutter; many remain wound. Listen to the action as the spring unwinds (must have been a trick to capture wildlife with this mechanical action), imagine they feel some relief; note the wear or lack of it. Start shoot from the most interesting side; shoot a minimum of 6 frames...

Try to capture the country of origin, Austria, France, Great Britain, Japan, USSR among them.

I've been turned loose on the project and attempt to improve image quality and composition as I go with the hope of doing justice to the subjects. The removal of the identifying number from each shot was a later but welcome change.

Their condition hints of use and operator, the 8 mm with Bermuda Customs Inspection stamp - amateur, recreation? Others show regular use with dings, scratches and worn finish, a professional user? Some hard service US ARMY SIGNAL CORPS. A few made for the film industry. Many are just gems, museum quality, solid construction with a patina of age, secure fit, precise action with unblemished finish, occasionally in original box with papers in working order.


 The project generates its own momentum and I am curious what future boxes hold as I progress documenting this rare collection of movie cameras. It is both privilege and education to be chosen to record this collection and see firsthand the history of advances in motion picture camera technology.